The Pharmacist’s Role in Preventing Infant Mortality in the United States

Although a very advanced country, the United States has one of the worst infant mortality rates amongst the industrialized countries of the world. Infant mortality is defined as a child who is born alive but dies within its first year of life. The three main causes in the U.S. of infant mortality are congenital malformations, deformations, and chromosomal abnormalities. When including infant injuries and maternal complications with pregnancy, these problems account for 60% of all infant mortalities. Luckily, there is something pharmacists can do to help improve mother and infant health through all stages of pregnancy.

Improving healthcare access has proven to be a positive factor for infant mortality throughout all living environments and income levels. Because pharmacists are one of the most accessible healthcare providers, we can intervene and educate future parents. Whether it is a planned pregnancy or unplanned, pharmacists are able to promote healthy lifestyles for the preconception period, pregnancy, and the postpartum period of a woman’s life. With free resources such as the Affordable Care Act that provide patient education, pharmacists can reach out to women promote a healthy lifestyle in the preconception period.

Pharmacists can also be available to help expecting mothers with their disease states, figuring out ways to monitor the disease without using medications that may harm the fetus. The pharmacist should obtain an extensive medication list, current and past, including herbal supplements and over-the-counter medications to best identify potential hazards for the mom and the child. It is then important in the postpartum period to educate the mother on vaccines the infant can receive to avoid common illnesses. In addition, pharmacists should emphasize the importance of the mother’s health postpartum, as there will be many changes in her body and life during this time.

Finally, and in my opinion most importantly, pharmacists can educate on contraceptives. Over half of the pregnancies in the United States are unplanned pregnancies, with half of the couples with unintended pregnancies stating they used a form of contraception in the month prior to conception. Educating on the proper use of contraception forms could help to lower the unplanned pregnancies, and in turn lower infant mortality rate. It only takes a five minute explanation from a pharmacist to help teach how to avoid an unplanned pregnancy, and the more pharmacists educate, the more the public will turn to them with further questions.

Mager, Natalie A. “Preventing Infant Mortality: Pharmacists’ Call to Action.” Journal of the American Pharmacists Association. Elsevier Inc. 2016. Web. 8 February 2016.

Preventing infant mortality: Pharmacists’ call to action

The United States has a higher infant mortality rate than many other developed countries.  6.1 of every 1000 babies born in the U.S. dies within their first 12 months of life, not including miscarriages or stillbirths.  The leading causes of death in this country are preterm births (when the baby is born before the 37th week of the pregnancy), sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), or low birth weight.  These deaths aren’t caused by a single factor, but a multitude of them.  Pharmacists can impact society more than they know by informing the population of the factors that contribute to infant mortality and hopefully reduce their frequency.

For example, tobacco use during pregnancy increases the likelihood of all of the leading causes of infant death in the U.S. in addition to birth defects.  Both smoking and smokeless tobacco have affects on the baby  even after it is born and can lead to complications.  Pharmacists can intervene by providing information and advice on smoking cessation as well as recommend products to help mothers quit.  Alcohol, illicit drugs, and marijuana all can have deleterious affects as well, and pharmacists can spread knowledge about these too.

Vaccines are also highly recommended to pregnant women to prevent infants from susceptibility to those diseases and infections.  The inactive forms are preferred and can range from flu to tetanus.  Pharmacists can educate their pregnant patients as well as administer these immunizations to prevent death from preventable causes.

Pharmacists can also inform the public on the advantages of breastfeeding, for instance babies who are breast fed have a lower risk of death due to SIDS.  Critical vitamins during pregnancy are another counseling point for pharmacists.

Overall, including pharmacists in the education of mothers during and after pregnancy can and should have a profound effect.  Together with their inter-professional health team, they can reduce infant mortality rates by informing the public on preventable actions that cause infant death.

DiPietro Mager N. Preventing infant mortality: Pharmacists’ call to action. JAPhA. 2016;56(1):82-87